Gardens and Graduates

I started my tomato plants indoors weeks ago, initially keeping them in the relative warmth and southern sunshine of a shelf in the window above the freezer in our laundry room. When they outgrew the laundry room, I jerry-rigged a clear-garbage-bag-incubator/greenhouse in the east window of the below-room-temperature upstairs bedroom. The geraniums were similarly situated in the west window by my art table.

Later, once the sunroom by the front door actually felt like a sunroom rather than a walk-in freezer, I put the tomatoes there during daylight hours, and shuffled them inside at night until the danger of freezing was past. Every time I checked, watered, or moved them, I’d run my hand through their leaves to simulate air movement and encourage them to strengthen their stems in resistance. They’d need this strong backbone to withstand the winds that cruise along the south side of the house where they would eventually spend the summer months.

Even with all my care to harden off the plants before finally transplanting them under a homemade wire-hoop-and-plastic “greenhouse,” they weren’t as resilient as I had hoped. The cool nights and early mornings weren’t a problem because of the insulating cover. Daytime exposure to direct sunlight sunburned a few tender topmost leaves, but nothing too concerning. I had even anticipated the prevailing west winds and put a stake on the east side of each of the tallest plants.

But one day a blustery wind whipped at the plastic cover and left the plants brutally exposed. All of the staked plants survived because they had the support needed to keep their still-strengthening stems from bending and breaking. Three of the shorter, un-staked plants were not so fortunate. The wind was too much for their untried youth. They bent and broke at the base of their stems.

I’ve since provided a stake for each of the remaining shorter plants.

Now, a few windy days later, all of the plants have developed thicker, hardy stems. Their roots have found purchase. They are established and growing. A few have even begun to form blossoms.

Ninety-two graduates “walked the stage” at my school last Friday. I fear that there are few of them whose stems are still too thin, too pliable and prone to easy bending and breaking. I wonder if they have the right support in the right places, supports they can lean into, supports that will hold fast. The winds of life can be gentle, but they can also become unrelenting storms. I hope that these young people have deep roots and sturdy supports. I hope their stems thicken, firm and strong and growing. I hope they don’t break. I hope — and pray. ▫️

☕️ Going in Circles

Reflection. Best of lists. Highlights. Anticipation. Resets and resolutions. So many rituals connected to the ordering our lives on the foundation of time. We live into chronology like we traverse airports on moving walkways, the past recedes as we are perpetually propelled forward. Life becomes a timeline, the significant moments labeled and dated, new years noted as harbingers of progress.

This metaphor works because it is not wholly inaccurate, but it falls short of explaining the full-orbed experience of life. Life, like time, is also cyclical. The hands on the clock circle round and round measuring minutes and hours. The earth rotates as it circles the sun, measuring days and months, seasons and years. My own life is better understood through recognizing its cycles than by resolutely marching down the number-line of accumulated age and years.

Progress occurs through returning again and again to perspectives that continually shift and grow or shrink as more learning and living inform my understanding and my choices. Growth is less linear, and more a circling back to build on what was before. Sometimes to scrap and start anew. Sometimes simply to try again. Sometimes to repeat what didn’t work last time only to experience despair or self-recrimination…again. Cycles can create ruts, and dangers lurk there to be sure.

And maybe this is why we often use the metaphor of “going in circles” to describe lack of progress, lostness, “stuckness.” We can certainly experience all of these at any given time, but what if going in circles could also mean building layers of learning, like the rings of a tree. Or patterns of beauty like the concentric circles of a chrysanthemum. Or habits of faith like the woven materials of a sturdy bird’s nest. What if going in circles means recognizing repeating seasons and being more intentional about how we cycle through them. Or, especially in our relationships with God and others, what if it means rotating on the axis of a deepening love, commitment, and understanding. What if going in circles is about growth rather than stagnation. What if.

As we spiral our way through the days and year ahead, may our circles be as wide and wondering or as narrow and tight and focused as needed to let our hearts be tilled, planted, and watered by God’s good work in us. May we return again and again to what is good and true and right, and turn away always from what is not. May our wounds gain another layer of healing. May our cycles of grief be buoyed by hope and comfort. May our ruts be filled in with the core layers of repentance, grace, humility, forgiveness, and belonging. May we collect treasures of joy and goodness in each loop and lap and curve. May we know above all, that the God who first ordered time into morning and evening, days and years makes “everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”

I’ll spend the next years of my life circling back to ponder the implications of that last sentence. Which is exactly what was intended, I think.

Here’s to going in circles…

🌐 The Flat World & Me

This flat world we hold in our palms does not spin, but it pulls us into its orbit through tap, swipe, scroll and makes our minds spin with endless images and trivial-alarming-banal-important-irrelevant information that somehow becomes real and alluring, exciting and vital.

How did we ever live before flat worlds became our whole world?

At what moment did I choose to be a spectator rather than a participant with the grit of gravel under my boots, the smudge of earth on my jeans, my face, my hands?

At what point did I sink into mere consumerism rather than developing the skill and patience of observing and notating the non-pixelated, unfiltered, uncropped?

I need the uncurated world. I need to see the forest and the logged-off cut blocks, the fields and the gas plants and pump jacks, the emerald-green lakes and the ones stale-green with algae, the wheat and the weeds. I need the lush green of meadows and rancid road-kill in ditches and delicate flowers and gooey mud and birds and rodents.

Place is all of this and more, and it is too rich and full to fit into pixels or the binary codes of the flat world. Pixels tell me nothing about the sandpaper rub of dirt between my fingers, the feathery tickle of a bird eating sunflower seeds from my hand, or the pleasant shock of the wind whipping my breath away. Binary code tells me nothing about the actual lived-life of the person who used flesh-and-blood fingers to tap the text that bubbles on my screen. However connected we are in the flat world (and we certainly are connected — often in very helpful and important ways), something is always lacking. Emoji libraries will never be large enough for our whole selves.

To know place is to be rooted in the particularity of place and people and community rather than spinning through the dizzying orbit of text-tap-swipe-scroll-snap-chat. To know place is to hold it in the muscle memory of experience, not just the visual memory of a social media feed.

To clarify, this is not meant to be a rant against technology. It would be hypocritical of me to decry what I myself use. For several years now, I have pursued a goal to understand more fully what it means to be rooted in the place where God has put me, and my words here are simply my reflection on how that is going. Sometimes I need to remind myself to stay grounded, keep my orbit small in scope but deep in wonder. The flat world invites me to a voyeuristic curiosity; being rooted in a particular place encourages the curiosity that leads to deeper knowing and understanding and gratitude.

I want to know this place better through exploring the physical world around me, whether that is by identifying birds in the marsh or bushwacking up a mountain or tending a garden or watching the snow fall in a silent parade of delicately formed flakes.

I want to know this place deeper by listening to people I can reach out and touch. I want to hear their stories — ones of origin and ones of becoming and brokenness and restoration and everything in-between. I want to be better at seeing behind the behaviours and the bravado to understand the particularities of place and experience that have shaped lives.

And very simply, the more time I spend in the flat world, the less time I have for this beautiful, wonderful, wounded, scarred, floundering and flourishing world that surrounds me on all sides. This is where I belong and I want to live here with wisdom and with grace.

📝 Living in the Mist

October is coming to a close. The leaves are rarely in the trees, mostly on the ground. Mornings and evenings are chilly and often frosty. Some days the chill stays even when the frost doesn’t — yet. Some snow has come and gone. Soon it’ll come and stay. Most mornings are shrouded in heavy fog, which makes the already dark drive to school in the morning even darker. They’ve been re-paving a section of the route I drive and haven’t repainted the lines yet, just some dots to show where the center line should be. Dark, fog, no guiding lines to reflect the boundaries of the road…feels a bit like life sometimes. We do indeed live by a kind of faith, whether we want to admit it or not, I think.

There has been much to be thankful for in this past month, but not necessarily any more or less than other months. We just are more open to a collective sort of thanks-giving when we’re given a day off work to reflect on all the things we should be grateful for and probably are, but maybe those things aren’t always the truly important things and maybe we still mostly take everything for granted. Maybe. And maybe stress and Hard Things grind the shine off our thanksgiving and we feel ashamed to be offering something so worn and bedraggled when really this sort of thanks-giving is probably the most authentic and honest of them all.

Yes, I do have much to be thankful for, and yes, my gratitude has some worn edges and stretch marks and too much of the month felt like driving through the dark in the fog on a road that still needs lines painted on. You’ll likely hear echoes of this in this month’s Jots & Doodles. I struggled to come up with an overarching theme for this issue, partly because I didn’t want to just default to thanksgiving because Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October. I want to encourage thanksgiving as an attitude of the heart beyond a certain day of a certain month. So the Jots are not connected to a theme and neither are the Doodles, for that matter, but they do reflect some of my thinking and observations over the past few weeks. I’ve been challenged and encouraged…and I’m still processing (and probably always will) what it means and what it looks like when I say that I live a life of faith in God, the only truly Faithful One.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1 Issue 10 can be found here, or by going to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu. Maybe you’ll find some words that resonate with you and encourage you. I hope so.

The Stories We Keep

One of the reasons I write is because I need to process things, to get ideas out of my head and on paper where I can begin to make sense of them or discover some new perspective. Although most of my “processing” remains in my notebooks, I write here because I want to invite others to think and ponder along with me. But we are more than just processors of ideas and questions and observations. We are storytellers and story-keepers. Our lives are anthologies of stories bound together and nestled into a larger, grander story whose opening line is “In the beginning, God…”

I keep stories that have changed my life or perspective, forged new growth or wisdom, or made me laugh or smile. Stories can do all of these and more. Above all, stories anchor me to my place in the world. From time to time, I want to revisit some of these stories, not because my life is anything special, but because, actually, it is. And so is yours.

I’ve done some housekeeping here at Sola Gratia. You’ll find a new page just for stories – some of mine, and hopefully some of yours as well. Soon you’ll also find a page just for Jots & Doodles — Volume 1 Issue 3 will be available soon!

☕️ What’s in a Name?

A Saturday Caesura

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love mountains. Even as a child, all that rock and snow and majesty captivated me, saturated my soul with goodness. I eventually learned that some mountains have names, and being able to call a mountain by its name somehow made it more of a friend than the other nameless ones. I viewed maps and learned the names of more mountains and that mountain families were called ranges, and then I read books and learned that mountains weren’t just piles of snow-capped rock; they had features as distinct as my nose and eyes and freckles. Peak, alpine, glacier — those were the most obvious ones, but then I learned about seracs and scree, cirques, saddles, and cols. And fun-to-pronounce names like krummholz, bergschrund, arête, and nunatak. Mountains still captivate me, heart and soul, but they are no longer generic entities imposing their glorious mystery onto the landscape. When I look at a mountain or hike to its summit, I now name what I see and yearn to learn more.

So I’ve been thinking about naming and the difference it makes when I don’t see just a tumult of colour in a sub-alpine meadow, but I’m able to say, “Why hello, Moss Campion and Pink Mountain Heather and lovely little Wintergreen.” (I like to think that I’m on such friendly terms with flowers that I needn’t bother with their formal, scientific names). Likewise, the vast night sky seems less vast and unknowable when I recognize Big Dipper, North Star, and Orion’s Belt.

Naming is an invitation to move from abstract, general knowledge to a deeper form of knowing that gives us language for the stories through which we share our learning and our experiences. Naming can be a matter of utility and function, as is the jargon specific to vocation, profession, business, politics, and sport, but even more than the practical and necessary, naming can be a way of paying attention. And paying attention is a way of knowing our world. Paying attention is a way of halting the blur of activity and productivity. Naming and knowing help us prioritize presence over performance.

And this practice of presence is why naming has become more important to me. Where my devices encourage me to scroll, swipe, refresh, repeat, naming forces me to get the binoculars and look closely — is that a Cedar Waxwing or a Bohemian Waxwing? Where my day-to-day life pushes me to go, go, be, do, naming makes me be still and listen — is that insect-like buzzing a Grasshopper Sparrow or a Clay-coloured Sparrow? Naming invites me to turn from the distractions and enticements of the faraway and beyond to focus on the people and places right here in this small but endlessly knowable piece of creation where I live.

I do not wonder that one of the tasks given to Adam in the garden was to name the other creatures. I think God wanted Adam to have intimate knowledge of the world he was placed in because that world, then and now, points to the Creator who knows our names, who is himself present with us.

☕️ Jots & Tittles & Scribbles

A Saturday Caesura

Whenever my husband sees me staring out the window with my thin blue notebook and a pencil in hand, he asks me how the ‘jots and tittles’ are going. On some days I answer, “Fine.” On other days, I sigh. Sometimes my mind swirls with words and images practically begging to be embodied on the page. Sometimes the words seem to have flown south or gone into hibernation. Or something.

I have another notebook (brown, spiral-bound) and a whole set of pencils, though the latest favourites are H and B, sometimes F. This notebook contains my “scribbles.” When lines and curves and dots won’t cooperate to make words, I repurpose them for other ways to create images.

Creativity is about observing our world and taking the bits and pieces, the broken shards and the impossibly intact, and using them to tell a greater story about beauty and truth and wholeness.

I’ve been trying to use what I have —jots, tittles, scribbles — to tell this grand story of grace and redemption, but it’s a story we all can tell through our unique callings and abilities.

And this story? It’s one our world desperately needs to hear. We need to hear.

Mountains are not easily reduced to jots, tittles, or scribbles…
I could scribble prairie skies for days and days.
Marsh ❤️
My addiction — alpine meadows.
A tree growing on a rock.
How does life flourish in such impossible places?

☕️ The Almost Didn’ts

A Saturday Caesura

The first three weeks of school in the midst of a pandemic with all its uncertainties, regulations, and anxieties has left me feeling like the world and my words are speeding by, the shape, form, detail lost in an indistinguishable blur. One of the reasons I write is to pay attention and to notice things, to find beauty and discover wisdom and wonder. Lately, my eyes and ears and heart have found it difficult to focus on anything in the jumble of life zipping past the window. I’ve not noticed so many things.

So I’m grateful for the things I almost didn’t notice.

I almost didn’t notice the skies pockmarked with dusky clouds and reverberating with the animated chatter of hundreds of geese making travel plans, discussing weather forecasts, channelling the energy of young ones caught up in the excitement and anticipation of their first Great Migration.

I almost didn’t notice that the trees have shivered and shimmied out of some of their summer garb, letting it drop in disarray at their feet like a discarded memory.

I almost didn’t notice the gradual slouching towards darkness that cloaks the morning commute with mystery and evokes a comforting cup of hot chai tea.

I almost didn’t notice the shifting colour palate of the marsh, not so long ago a richly nuanced green, now a motley gold-russet-chocolate-lemon that flavours and textures this year’s marsh fall fashion.

I almost didn’t notice the tracks trespassing on the newly graded road a few hundred metres from our home — a young bear venturing out to leave his bear-foot mark on the edges of society. I wonder if he felt brave and adventurous.

I almost didn’t notice the tears forming above the mask. The voice behind the mask was trying so hard to be brave. Even in a pandemic, school is already the safest place to be for too many teens. I wish I could give hugs.

I wish I could list all the things I didn’t notice. They probably contained so much beauty and wisdom and wonder. But I missed them.